Given that an [adjective] X is still an X, is a false dichotomy still a dichotomy? This question is not exactly like asking one about a false belief, but it is similar as far as the wordplay is involved.

I think that this phrase would actually be considered an oxymoron, although it isn't (typically) used as a rhetorical device. Is there a category that would encompass concepts similar to this?

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    Would a false horse still be a horse? Also, while "false" might be an adjective, does it correspond to a property? Also consider, "A ceramic horse is a horse": not quite, it's made of ceramic. Etc. ... Dec 14, 2023 at 18:47
  • @KristianBerry Well, kind sir, you are committing a category mistake, because false applied to horses is not the same as false applied to beliefs since you are equivocating on true and false. In the physical domain of discourse, false is akin to "model of real thing" where as in the abstract domain of discourse false means "doesn't correspond to reality" or "fails to cohere with other claims".
    – J D
    Dec 14, 2023 at 19:42
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    @JD I didn't intend to commit to any specific sense of "false," here. We're juggling beliefs, dichotomies, models, etc. so I wouldn't be sure that "false dichotomy" was more like "false horse" than "false belief." Dec 14, 2023 at 19:54
  • @KristianBerry, This reminds me of Gongsun Long's white horse paradox. Which kind of relates to the question, because we are breaking it down to "is false dichotomy a member of the set of all dichotomies." Dec 14, 2023 at 20:13
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    There are many examples of adjectives that do not restrict the meaning of the associated noun, but rather extend it. An alleged crime is not a crime, a pseudo cyst is not a cyst, a model village is not a village, a trainee doctor is not a doctor, an imaginary event is not an event, an unconsummated marriage is not a marriage, magnetic north is not north, virtual reality is not reality. And of course, as with "hot dogs" there are adjectives that change the meaning of the noun entirely. Dec 15, 2023 at 11:41

4 Answers 4


Your central claim seems to be that an [adjective] x is always an x. However, consider the following examples...

An exploded bomb

A melted snowflake

A fake diamond

A wannabee popstar

A cancelled performance

An imaginary planet

An impossible solution

A distorted circle

An incinerated dollar bill.

Each of those combinations of an adjective and a noun refers to something that is essentially quite different from the referent of the noun by itself, so it seems that an [adjective] x need not always be an x.

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    busy beaver, vector field, steering wheel, hard drive, split second, random choice, competitive ladder, golden parachute, black gold... (technically I slipped a <noun attribute><noun> in there instead of just keeping it to <adjective><noun>; same difference)
    – Stef
    Dec 15, 2023 at 13:10
  • +1 For clarity and thoroughness. As long as it is noted that every example provided is a physical concept and fundamentally different than the a belief, propositional attitude, emotion, choice, or belief, which of course, like a dichotomy is not. ; )
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:38
  • I think this only says that it is ambiguous whether [adjective] x is an x. While useful, it doesn't seem to answer the question asked.
    – fectin
    Dec 16, 2023 at 0:46
  • A false belief is a belief whose content is not true: I believe 2+2=5.

  • A false dichotomy is not a dichotomy with a certain property. Instead it is a binary classification which is not disjunct or not exhaustive. Hence a false dichotomy is no dichotomy at all.

    Example: All humans live either before 2000 (start of the year) or after that time (not disjunt, some live in both time periods). All numbers are either positive or negative (zero is missing).

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    I'm not going to downvote, but I'd consider the argument that false propositions despite not being true are still propositions. Example: "Integers are either positive or negative" is clearly false because it violates the trichotomy property, but that doesn't make it a non-proposition.
    – J D
    Dec 14, 2023 at 19:38
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    @JD I speak abour dichtomies, not about propositions, which is more general. Of course I agree with you, that a false proposition is a proposition.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 14, 2023 at 19:45
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    +1 For conciseness Oh, I thought dichotomies were propositions and not real things. I guess we differ on that point. ; )
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:39

You have an intersection of ideas here: what adjectives are and how they function, and specifically the role they play in definitions (SEP), real or otherwise.

First, note that some adjectives, according to Barbara Partee, are considered subsective modifiers and some are not. From WP:

a subsective modifier is an expression which modifies another by delivering a subset of its denotation. For instance, the English adjective "skilled" is subsective since being a skilled surgeon entails being a surgeon. By contrast, the English adjective "alleged" is non-subsective since an "alleged spy" need not be an actual spy.

So, in the case of "false dichotomy", the question then really can be restated as whether false in this role is subsective or non-subsective which has obvious implications in a natural language ontology (SEP). Regarding "false dichotomy", it most certainly is a subsective modifier because a false dichotomy is not fictional or imaginary, but rather indicates leads to specious outcome in reason as it has the type "fallacy". From WP:

A false dilemma, also referred to as false dichotomy or false binary, is an informal fallacy based on a premise that erroneously limits what options are available.

Thus, the nature of a false dichotomy is that it also has type "proposition". For instance, "America, love it or leave it!" is a false dichotomy because it is an exhortation which presupposes two possible choices: loving or leaving, when one obviously can both dissent and remain.

So, a "false dichotomy" is merely a "proposition that contains a claim that there are necessarily two possibilities" when there are obviously two or more possibilities possible. What's important to get to our conclusion is, a "false proposition" still has type "proposition", and therefore allows us to conclude that no category mistake is being committed by the use of this modifier. The same applies to belief. Beliefs can be true or false beliefs, and in both case, the modifier is subsective and is therefore a subclass. Members of a subclass are still members of the superclass to which the subclass belongs.

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    It seems to me that a "false dichotomy" is closer to the non-subsective "alleged spy" than it is to "skilled surgeon" since a false dichotomy signifies that what we're talking about need not entail a dichotomy. In fact, "false dichotomy" is used precisely when we mean "not a dichotomy at all," would you agree? Dec 14, 2023 at 19:51
  • I would not. If I give you the wrong answer, it is still an answer. Choices are constructs of the mind, not real entities, and there is no absolutely privileged position on what constitutes a false dichotomy. If I give you a dichotomy as a choice, and you insist you have three choices, by what way measure do you prove that one view is better than another? A Christian says "Either you choose go to heaven or hell", and an Atheist quips "I'll choose to ignore both because they are not real". Is the atheist's 3rd choice more real? Real applies to birds and stones, and not to choices or beliefs.
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:19
  • It's the myth of the given to presume that your "objective reality" is necessarily universal or that the values you use to construct your reality including your biases in the very act of perception itself are somehow disembodied facts independent of you and your being. All concepts are constructions. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptualism#Contemporary_philosophy
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:22
  • @SO_fix_the_vote_sorting_bug I won't insist you follow me to my very anti-realist conclusion if you haven't been persuaded of the theory-ladeness of experience itself, but starting since Duhem, Objectivity is no longer a high-ground. All propositional content and semantics is normative, and one can at best acknowledge and minimize it. Adequacy and satisfiability are generalizations of proof and truth and therefore better choices.
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:30

Perhaps it's both a dichotomy and not a dichotomy. As a belief about two options being mutually exclusive and exhaustive, it's a false belief, but still a belief. But relative to being a dichotomy itself, it is false in another way?

It would be ironic if, "A false dichotomy is either a dichotomy or not," were itself a false dichotomy. I am reluctant to embrace a dialethic outcome, here, though. I suppose another option is a paracomplete one: a false dichotomy neither is nor is not a dichotomy, then. (Woe to us if paraconsistent or paracomplete is yet another misguided disjunction, here!)

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